Loading Hands for Baseball and Softball Hitters
This Loading Hands for Baseball and Softball article was excerpted from our new book, The Ultimate Hitting Fundamentals, Techniques, and Strategy Guide (click for book details).
For recommendations on how and when to use various training methods (dry, heavy bag, pylos, tee, toss, live, machine, etc.) and to shop for effective and durable training equipment, click on the link Hitting Training Methods and Aids.
The where and how baseball and softball hitters move their hands from a neutral position in front of the rear shoulder, in their stance, to a separated (muscle stretched, loaded) hitting position varies significantly among successful hitters. The where and how should be Fit to Player and support the type of hitter they are or want to be.
Benefits of Loading Hands
Loading hands from a position in the stance where the hands are in front of the rear shoulder to a hitting position where the hands are over or behind the back foot increases power and productivity by:
- Creating more distance for the barrel to be accelerated.
- Stretching muscles producing enhanced torque. Once the hitter’s front foot hits the ground and their hands remain back from where the load took them, tension builds across the upper torso. This tension is like a stretched rubber band that allows for a violent reaction toward the ball. The more pressure created, the higher the potential early bat speed.
- Allotting the lower body time to work against the ground and prepare to transfer energy up the kinetic chain.
- Enabling arms and hands to become connected earlier to shoulder rotation.
- Granting room to get the swing path on the same plane as the pitch trajectory (click on our free article Swing in the Plane of the Pitch).
- Permitting the barrel to remain inside the path of the ball as the swing begins.
When to Load Hands
In sports, integrated back-and-through (pendulum) motions increase momentum and speed. Just like swinging an ax, going back with the hands as part of the swing motion “loads up” the muscles producing a faster forward motion.
It is crucial to execute the back-and-through, loading movement in a fluid tempo with no breaks. The hitter does not separate hands early during gather. Doing this creates a two-piece swing. Instead, for higher bat speed, the hitter’s hands remain in front of the rear shoulder until the stride and separate phase begins.
Where to Load Hands
Hitters vary considerably in the location where their hands arrive when fully loaded. Adjustments in this area may have dramatic effects, good or bad, depending on the specific hitter. Take time to experiment with the various options. Utilize slow-motion video, bat speed or ball exit speed radars, and game-like rehearsal to gather objective information and analyze the effect (click the link for how to analytically assess a hitter) of changing loading location. Here is a checklist of loading positions utilized, ordered from least (shortest) to most aggressive (longest):
- Flat Bat
The flat-bat style of hitting emphasizes bringing the barrel to the hitting zone in an extremely short and compact stroke (image left). There is no inward turn. Hands begin outside the toe line and never load. The swing is a half-swing. While ball exit velocity suffers, flat-bat is the absolute best insurance against striking out.
Chinning, in hitting position, occurs when the hitter’s hands load tight to the hitter’s rear shoulder, relatively closer to the batter’s chin. Lead arm bend/flex is maintained at ninety degrees or more. Chinning creates a very compact swing by shortening the distance to the hitting zone. The downside is decreased bat speed (click for how to measure and track bat speed) due to reduced hand and foot separation (muscle stretching) and late connection to rotation. Chinning can be a practical two-strike approach.
- Load Hands Outside Toe Line
Loading hands outside the toe line is a common strategy to shorten the swing. Little if any inward turn is utilized. Hands move to 4+ ball distance from the rear shoulder, locating the hands outside the toe line. For the developing hitter, loading hands in this manner, inward toward the plate, can create issues:
- Hitting “around” the ball, especially the inside pitch.
- A swing path with a downward plane (negative attack angle).
- Poor connection to rotation, reducing bat speed substantially.
For a comprehensive discussion of hitters’ quickness to the contact zone, click on the article Load Hands to Reduce Time to Contact?
- Load Hands On Toe Line
Most High-Level hitters separate hands to a position where their hands are over the line made between the toes. To accomplish this dynamic and productive load of hands requires a 20-degree inward turn of the shoulders. Hands move to a position about two balls from the rear shoulder. The hitter also maintains the flex in the lead arm at approximately 35-degrees (a straight arm would be zero degrees flex).
Developing hitters, as well as the more experienced, can be successful with loading Hands On Toe Line because:
- It is a good compromise between ultimate power and a short.
- It promotes keeping the barrel inside the path of the pitch as the swing begins.
- Load Hands Inside Toe Line
Hitters who prioritize power load hands inside the toe line by coiling inward at least 30-degrees, reducing flex in the lead arm to 15 to 25-degrees, and locating hands directly behind the rear foot.
- Arm Bar
A few elite power hitters separate hands even further behind their rear foot (toward the catcher) to increase 1) the connection to shoulder rotation and 2) room to accelerate the barrel. These hitters are striving for maximum bat speed and power. Due to the increased length of the swing, armbar hitters develop complex methods to cover all pitches in the strike zone:
- Some armbar hitters increase the bend/flex in the lead arm when identifying inside pitch location.
- Other armbar hitters maintain the armbar but rotate the lead shoulder higher than ninety degrees to the plate at contact. They get the barrel to the inside pitch by utilizing early and extensive shoulder rotation (spinning).
Objectively determine whether the armbar increases power by analyzing bat speed and ball exit velocity. Yes, the barrel has a more circular distance to accelerate (centrifugal force). On the other hand, like a figure skater in a spin, the tighter they pull in their arms and legs to the rotation axis, the faster they spin (centripetal force).
Armbar is not a productive option for most hitters, especially youth.
How to Load Hands
Great hitters also vary in the techniques they use to load hands. Here is a checklist of movement paths that can be Fit to Player:
- “Rock the V.”
A simple but effective method to separate hands and create muscle tension is to “rock the V.” To rock the V, the hitter begins by positioning their arms, in their stance, in an upside-down “V.” Then, as the hitter strides, the ^ is rocked rearward, keeping the distance between elbows and the degree of arm flex static. The rear elbow loads parallel to the ground, and the front elbow moves to a fist distance from the hitter’s chest and points down. These movements stretch the shoulder and oblique muscles, ready to “snap the rubber band.” Rock the V is the recommended loading technique to teach developing hitters.
- Combined with a small degree of inward shoulder turn, rock the V moves the knob of the bat in a tight rearward arc to a point on the toe line.
- The height of the hands is at or slightly above the top of the strike zone.
- To enhance back-and-through momentum, perform rock the V in fluid tempo.
- “Walk Away From Hands.”
An oft-used verbal cue, “walk away from hands,” reminds hitters to feel their hands separating. Hands remain in the same location relative to the ground while the rest of the torso moves forward during the approach. Don’t push hands back; step away from hands to separate.
- Walking away can result in the hitter unintentionally barring the lead arm. Ask the hitter to maintain a stable flex in the lead arm.
- Walking away can result in hands staying outside the toe line as they load – this may or may not be desirable.
- Big Turn.
A popular loading technique used by elite High-Level power hitters is the big turn. With the big turn, the hitter turns the front shoulder into the plate up to forty-five degrees. Hands load inside the toe line. Big turn can be done as part of gather or during the loading of hands. When done as a part of loading hands, extreme muscle stretching results if the shoulders continue to counter-rotate as core rotation begins.
Discourage most developing hitters against adopting a big turn. Potential issues are:
- The hitter’s head turns with the shoulders and hides one eye from seeing the ball at release and during initial travel.
- A circular swing path with no linear extension.
- “Spinning off” outside and off-speed pitches.
- Inconsistent Timing.
- Loading Hands in Stance.
A few strong High-Level hitters separate their hands in their stance; hands fully load before any movement begins. Little or no relocation of hands occurs during gather, stride, separate, and approach. The swing is shorter as there is no rearward move of hands. But, the lack of back-and-through, momentum-building stretching of muscles likely reduces bat speed.
A few elite hitters hitch. Hitching occurs when the hitter brings their hands extensively downward and then back up when loading. The primary issue with hitching is that hands never come back up. Instead, they remain below the top of the strike zone resulting in an overly upward swing path on high pitches.
Developing hitters should avoid the habit of hitching.
- Vertical Bat Tilt
To execute vertical bat tilt, the hitter “stacks” the bat’s barrel over hands until just before launch. The idea is to leave space to get the barrel moving early.
Vertical bat tilt is one part of a three-part strategy. The hitter uses 1) a vertical bat angle in their stance, 2) a vertical bat tilt loading method (as defined in this section), and 3) pre-launch torque.
As hands separate (load), hitters pull back the rear forearm and elbow, like an archer pulling back on the bowstring. The rear elbow stays very bent; the top hand palm faces the pitcher; the bottom hand palm faces the catcher. These hand positions keep the barrel “stacked” over hands until pre-launch torque is applied.
Hitters using vertical bat tilt and pre-launch torque get the barrel moving early. The barrel gains momentum in a small semi-circle before slotting into the correct plane for the swing. The idea is that the “race car” (barrel) can go faster on a mile track than a quarter-mile. But the longer and “loopy” swing path add complexity to timing since the barrel gains speed before front heel plant.
The athletic and experienced hitter striving to maximize bat speed (click link for how to measure and track bat speed improvements) may be the right candidate for experimenting with vertical bat tilt in conjunction with pre-launch torque.
- Rear Shoulder Row (Scap Load).
Rear shoulder row is an advanced power generating technique. Hitters can intensify hip and shoulder separation by counter-rotating the hips forward as the inward turn continues to move the rear shoulder away from the plate.
Loading Hands for Developing Hitters
Separate hands is a fundamental where ineffective habits or methods that are not an excellent Fit to Player can lead to swing issues such as casting, inadequate plate coverage, reduced bat speed, and inconsistent timing. Building Rome Series recommends developing hitters construct Hands On Toe Line separation and Rock the V loading.
Loading Hands for Experienced Hitters
When experimenting with various strategies for separating hands, the following indicators can help experienced hitters evaluate where and how to load hands:
- Increase in bat speed.
- Increase in ball exit speed.
- More hard-hit balls to the middle of the field.
- Confidence turning on inside fastballs.
- Improved ability to adjust for off-speed pitches.
- The hitter feels powerful.
Loading Hands Drills
The following drills are among the 140 function drills included in The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide:
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill I – Inside, On, and Outside Toe Line Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill II – Front to Rear Positioning of Hands in Stance Experimentation Drill
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill III – Loading Methods Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XII: Experimental Loading Hands Drills, Drill IV – Arm Bar Experimentation Drill.
- Tool XIII: Universal Loading Hands Drills, Drill III – Rear Elbow Angle at Launch Drill.
- Philosopher Lesson IV: Fix Hitching.
- Philosopher Lesson V: Fix Bat Drag.
- Philosopher Lesson VII: Fix Dipping.
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!